Saturday, August 4, 2012

Too Much On My Plate

I nearly cried when the clerk at the local DMV handed over this plate and my freshly printed New Mexico title, and not because the package cost me nearly 500 bucks.

It was at least my sixth visit to the little office with its waiting room full of dispirited and grumbling patrons and the nonstop food channel everyone was apparently afraid to change.

None of this will surprise anyone who's had to license a car in a new state lately, but it's been many years since I owned a car in this country at all, and I was appalled at what government cutbacks and passive aggressive clerical behavior have done to the process.

We bought our car from a dealer in Alamogordo, about 45 miles from here. The salesman said the dealership would charge me a service fee of about $350 to title and register, and I'd be smart to just do it myself. Okay, I shouldn't have said, but did.

When I got to the DMV the clerk informed me on inspecting the dealer documents that I didn't have the car's former title. I had to return to Alamogordo and ask for it. It turned out the car's last owner was in Alaska.

Back at the DMV, I learned that a newly arrived taxpayer with an out-of-state car needs to prove his own identity and his New Mexico residency before anybody will even look at his vehicle particulars.

Identity wasn't a problem, but I had to go home to look for my Medicare and Social Security cards, and also a birth certificate. I needed Pam's papers too. Residency was tougher, because as Ruidoso newbies we haven't got much documentation with both our names on it, addressed to us in New Mexico.

I failed again at the DMV because the rental contract on our temporary residence didn't match with our actual new mailing address, and yet again when I arrived with an electric bill on which only Pam's name appeared. (Each take-a-number visit required at least an hour's wait, sometimes more.)

Once the identity and residency hurdles were behind me, I encountered VIN issues. An out-of-state car requires a physical inspection of the vehicle to verify that its ID number matches the paperwork. The number on the dash did indeed match, but when the clerk looked for the "nader sticker" on the driver's door she found it had been ripped off.

The number is also embossed above the radiator, first thing you see when you lift the hood. But the clerk maintained it was above her pay grade to look at it. Only a state trooper would do for that.

There's a Highway Patrol office here, but the guy who does VIN inspections only shows up by appointment once a month, and oops we had just missed his July date. But my temp registration was about to expire, so that meant another trip to Alamogordo to shame the dealer into issuing me a new one.

My VIN appointment finally came on Wednesday, and after making sure my vehicle wasn't stolen and shaking his head over the fecklessness of DMV clerks, the trooper gave me an affidavit stating that he had located the VIN number in two places.

I went back to the DMV the next day, but the line was so long I gave up. Yesterday, with my second temp expiration date looming, I went back determined to finish the job. But when I got to the window, the clerk shook her head mournfully and informed me that the trooper had transcribed an "L" in my VIN number with a bare vertical line that could also have been an "I" or a "1". It was above her pay grade to speculate as to what he meant, she said with ersatz regret. Only the trooper himself could clarify this.

Seething, I crumpled my take-a-number slip and left the office, considering whether to go home and modify the affidavit myself. But we did the right thing and drove back to Patrol office, where a different trooper had the time and humanity to inscribe the short horizontal line that removed all doubt.

So yes, I nearly cried when we returned to the office, waited another hour, and got our plate. I paid extra for a two-year registration so I don't have to darken DMV's door again any time soon.


  1. Good God, man! It's a sign. It's all a sign. You need to come back here. All's forgiven. xo

  2. You should have made it 10 years after all that!